Year one; kicking the booze, the Ativan, and the pot to the curve. Check. Done. Easy peasy. JK, it is the hardest thing I have ever done. But that is behind me now, and it turns out that staying sober is a walk in the park compared to getting sober. I find it incredible to believe how much real estate these three things occupied in my mind- in a not too distant past. It is unimaginable that only three years ago, this was all I could think about. Why think about my crumbling marriage or my inability to hold down a job when I could focus on getting high and numbing the realities of my existence. Today- days, weeks can go by without a single romantic thought of pairing these three magical things together.
Year two. Tackle the real issue that turned my use of booze, prescription drugs, and pot from magical to medicinal. I was diagnosed with bipolar depression in my late 20s, a couple years later than the average diagnosis of some form of severe anxiety disorder. However, the signs were always there. The dyslexia, the inability to focus unless I was utterly captivated by something, the extreme exercise, the mood swings, the sex drive, the intensity, the glamorization of loneliness. The list can go on and on. When I was officially diagnosed, I was in such dire conditions that I took all the prescribed antipsychotic medication without asking questions. I did everything the doctor told me to do. Once I got myself feeling better again, I erased this episode from my mind. I wiped my memory clean of the experience and often referred to it as “the mental accident.” Little did I know that ignoring this diagnosis as a severe and fatal illness would mean living out my 30s in a total shit show.
Looking back, it was never the social stigma of mental illness that deterred me from seeing reality for what it was. I am a first-gene queer woman, and I can chew up social stigma and spit that fucker right out. I also saw firsthand how family members can treat their own mentally ill when my mother's family turned on her and deemed her illness a moral failure. The real deterrent, for me, was that being unmedicated was incredibly euphoric, especially when paired with a glass of pinot noir. The euphoria of mania is incredible. The romanticization of madness appealed to me. At the time, I chose to focus on the Vincent van Goghs of the world and ignored that for every van Gogh whose work lives in a museum, there are hundreds more who live in a mental hospital. For every Kurt Cobain, there are thousands more in the graveyard whose lyrics did not inspire anyone but their own internal devastation.
I wish someone, a doctor, a friend, a mentor, a podcaster, a writer, someone of authority could have told me, “you do have a six sense, this is true. You can see partners others don’t; this is also true. You can talk to God not because you are crazy but because you dare listen to your intuition. You have a higher capacity for creativity and intelligence than the average person. Not because of your grandiose thinking, but because one of the limited perks that come with being bipolar is unleashed energy. And unlimited access to energy crossed with the blessing of curiosity will allow you to deepen your knowledge on whatever subject matters you need or want to study. BUT do yourself and especially your loved ones a huge favor, take your goddamn pills. Find your cocktail of western medication magic, not because you are crazy, but because you are healthy and healthy people take their medicine. You will still be able to fly as high as your wild imagination can take you, but you won’t land in a swamp.”
But no one said these things to me, and when one has danced with madness, the thought of inviting it back for a glass of wine and another spin around the dance floor is remarkably tempting.
What I have learned in year two is that recovery is nonlinear. Often there are periods of significant progress followed by momentum setbacks. My internal and outer worlds remain equally compelling. However, today, my best friends live in my external world. They are real humans, people I can see, touch, and talk to. My worst mates, on the other man, those enemies are persistent as hell and remain present in my inner world. Exercise, meditation, AND 500mg of a cocktail of mood stabilizers have dim their presence. I have a therapist who encourages me not to live as a victim of my emotions but instead as a survivor of my realities. I also find a load of comfort in 12-steps recovery support groups made up of folks who have lived just as intensely and destructive as I have.
I am not sure where year three will take me, but if the past two are any indication, it is that the journey is one of resilience, self-compassion, and gratitude for a real shot at living a life grounded in both reality and sustainable joy.